Thoughtcrime - 28 Feb 2013

Was the Cold War a struggle between capitalists and an International Communist Conspiracy, or one between communists and an International Anti-communist Conspiracy?

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Thoughtcrime - 27 Feb 2013

In all likelihood there existed another human being who, born on the same day you were only to different circumstances, exhibited (at the very least) an equivalent genetic capacity for intellect and reasoning as you do, and yet rather than be given the chance to develop that ability, was consumed by hunger, disease, or some other all-too-preventable scourge.

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Thoughtcrime - 26 Feb 2013

Is it possible to end the oppressive forces of racism and sexism without dismantling the class-based society we live in and replacing it with some form of egalitarianism?

If it is possible, is it even preferable?  Or will doing so only further entrench class into our identity, ensuring that oppression in some form is here to stay?

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Thoughtcrime - 25 Feb 2013

Let it never be said that work isn't enjoyable.

Work itself can be the most rewarding endeavor we aspire to.  Work - when undertaken for a purpose, when that purpose is the very motivation driving us, and when we have a stake in the the final product - is an inherently joyous experience.

It is only when we are driven like slaves for countless hours, subordinate to others without any conceivable merit, in pursuit of vague goals which have little to no relation to human concern, and  then pitted against each other, barred any access whatsoever to the fruits of our labor, and forced to worry endlessly about our survival that work becomes hell - and we become soulless, tormented husks of our former selves.

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Thoughtcrime - 24 Feb 2013

Where does the argument "if you make life harder on the rich, the economy will suffer" end?

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Thoughtcrime - 23 Feb 2013

If humanitarian intervention is a valid goal of foreign policy and should be practiced, what is the justification for applying it some times and not others?  Why intervene in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, while ignoring genocide in places such as Rwanda, East Timor, and Myanmar?

And if any state can intervene in humanitarian crises, who will be allowed to intervene to save those withering away without food or shelter on the streets of Anglo-American cities?  Could some benevolent entity have come to the rescue when the American government showed how little it cared for its people after Hurricane Katrina (and later, Sandy)?

Furthermore, if its intentions are as noble as claimed, will any nation ever be invaded to force better working conditions on its populace, and to save those dying in sweatshops or other overcrowded spaces?

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The Political Function of "Serious Centrists"

There's a certain facade I always find myself coming back to when critiquing America and other members of the democracy-in-name-only club, its main purpose to make what is going on in the political sphere appear as if it is representative of what the general public wishes.  That, after all, is the driving concept behind democracy.  People aspire to have a government which, at the very least, represents them.

The facade is not without its flaws, though.  Because the substance of what goes on between politicians involves more lies and deceit than anything, cracks regularly form in the outer layer.  When the citizenry sees through these, crying out for reform, it then becomes the utmost concern of the ruling class to bottle up this political energy into something far less than revolutionary.  That's where having a government with a limited number of powerful players comes in handy.  With but a few monolithic parties (rather than many diverse ones), it becomes incredibly easy to reign in anything deemed too extreme, and thus ensure that business as usual is not interrupted.

By directing the masses' attention into battles so far removed from human relevance that they're not unlike worrying over the intentions of a single fly amidst a full scale infestation, these parties capture all but the most astute of political observers.  Point and counterpoint continue unabated.  Every argument seems so important, and it's difficult not to get caught up in the fury.  To make things worse, there is the allure of influence attached - "If I lend my talents to one side or the other," one might muse, "perhaps I too can become an Important Person." 

This stifling effect is especially obvious when watching debates in America between Democrats and Republicans.  Because the two parties almost completely control the dialogue, the perspective needed to escape from these myopic trappings is never provided.  Instead, the sides endlessly repeat talking points and try to one-up each other using the latest gossip from their favorite blogs.

And in those rare occasions when those watching see this charade for what it is?  Well.  Then, finally, the centrist's true purpose is revealed.  The angry peons must be kept feeling that the system is working, and not to blame; that way any damage to the elites' way of life can be contained.  So, it becomes incredibly convenient to have a class of people who will argue that the real problem in politics is that the ideologues on both sides refuse to work together and come to a sensible conclusion.  This group tells observers that mass movements and revolutionary organizing are unnecessary.  Just vote the right people into office - the McCains and the Liebermans, those who will bridge the divide - and all will be well.

Thoughtcrime - 22 Feb 2013

There isn't a country on Earth which feels so secure in its own livelihood - so absolutely sure it has a never-ending abundance of resources - to where it decides to invade another for strictly humanitarian reasons.  When countries do invade others, they do so for the same reason they have throughout history: self-interest.  Appeals to human concerns are simply the easiest way in the modern age to sell war to the otherwise unwilling public.

So, while it seems incredibly unlikely such a military invasion would ever end positively for the people of the occupied country (and even more unlikely that any transition could be executed in a humane fashion), there is little point in debating the merits of so-called humanitarian intervention until it can be reasonably argued that it may soon be attempted.

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Thoughtcrime - 21 Feb 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama says anyone killed by a drone strike can be considered a combatant as long as they're a "military-age male".  By that, surely he must mean anyone who isn't a child soldier (below 15-years-old), as he's shown he has no problem purposefully killing those as young as 16.

However, he has also defied a ban - passed through Congress - on giving military aid to countries which regularly employ child soldiers.  While his position there may be in some doubt, there's no question that going to such lengths to fund a military which contains child soldiers legitimizes the activity.

Continuing this trend, the CIA and American allies/proxies have regularly supplied weapons to Syrian rebels, which maintain child soldiers amongst their ranks.  One rebel is quoted saying, "Children are the best soldiers I know. They obey every command. An adult asks questions and answers back. But the children, they question nothing."

Are child soldiers "military-age males"?

In another instance, U.S. military officials have raised the idea that many of the children in Afghanistan killed are used for terror-related activities and are not "innocent", maintaining they have to "[look out] for children with potential hostile intent."  In this particular case, they were referring to those as young as 8.

Where does that put the definition of "military-age"?  Is anyone old enough to potentially be able to use a weapon fair game?

(Having followed that train of thought to its logical end, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that none of this killing - be it children or adults - is necessary in the first place.)

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Thoughtcrime - 20 Feb 2013

When it comes down to it, how different are economic sanctions from terrorism?  Both have the same stated goal of political reform, with the means being definite harm to innocent civilian populations.

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Thoughtcrime - 19 Feb 2013

If civilization as we know it were to suffer some cataclysmic event, with most everything left in ruin, what writings would likely be discovered amongst the rubble?

What would those who found these writings think of us?

Do we set our focus wide enough to where our thoughts stand the test of time, relevant to future generations, or are we instead so narrow and petty that those remaining humans would curse us for our lack of perspective?

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A Tool of War

The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden... Is Screwed. appears in Esquire this month.  It's a kind of hybrid 'America forgets about its veterans' / 'trouble returning to civilian life' piece, meant to appeal to patriotic sensibilities and Democratic politics alike.  The anonymous Navy SEAL in question is not the one who sold out and wrote a book about it (which the writer of the article, Phil Bronstein, endlessly applauds him for), but apparently is the one who killed bin Laden.

Despite the fact I knew what I was getting myself into reading such a sob story, it still managed to make me physically ill (though certainly not for the reason intended).  No doubt there is some sense of irony and sadness within any story that shows how the ruling class molds human beings into willing assassins who believe what they're doing is noble, and then laughs in their face when they're broken and no longer useful, but it would require a level of patriotism I do not have in order to be comfortable with the overall tone.  We're meant to take up this man's cause, while ignoring that of those he has killed.

Still, it was an illuminating trip into the mind of a professional hitman - a tool of war coming to the stark realization that he was nothing more than a tool of war.

Team America

Perhaps I wouldn't have been as bothered by what I read if the rhetoric were not so cringe-inducing.  But this too should have been expected, as only someone who accepts the entire war on terror dialogue could manage to get close enough to this guy (who wishes to remain anonymous on fear of his life) for long enough to even write a meaningful story.

Still, all the usual talking points are there.  Washington D.C. is referred to as "the capital of the free world".  The shooter is a "determined alpha male in the ultimate alpha crowd" and "an essential part of the team helping keep us safe since 9/11".  Every Arab is either dead, the butt of a joke, potentially wearing a suicide vest, or all three (seriously).

Thoughtcrime - 18 Feb 2013

Before the dawn of civilization, when humans were mostly hunter-gatherers, and even more subject to the dangerous and destructive whims of nature, many surely died to accident and calamity.  But how many starved?  How many wasted away because they were barred from food which was right in front of them?

Why now, with all of our accumulated knowledge of agriculture, advanced methods of transportation and preservation, and near-immunity from localized flooding and drought, do we not have enough food?  What excuse can we possibly give?

Is this really progress?

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Thoughtcrime - 17 Feb 2013


It tends to be when we stop asking this simple question that everything goes wrong.  There's always an answer which is more convenient, better fits our worldview, or does not challenge who we are.  The truth is not often intuitive and rarely reflects well on us, and thus is neglected.

For those who continue to ask "why?", the problem is found to almost always rest within the system and the structure of society, rather than on the individual (which isn't to say there are no 'good' and 'bad' people, just that each person is a result of an extremely complex set of influences, and that the solution to 'bad' people is not to simply denounce them).

Appeals to personal responsibility surely make us feel better about ourselves, but are most often simply a result of asking one too few questions.  Rather than thinking "I am better than this pathetic criminal, who should be locked up.", ask "Why did this person feel the need to resort to crime in the first place?"

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Thoughtcrime - 16 Feb 2013

Why is it that most of the objects we've managed to send outside the Earth's atmosphere - rather than being sent outward to search through the vast expanses of space - are pointed right back down at us?

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Thoughtcrime - 15 Feb 2013

If you're not angry at what is going on in the world, you're either not paying attention, or you have lost your ability to care.

If your leaders - who by virtue of their very jobs must pay attention to what is going on in the world - are not angry, what does that say about them?

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Thoughtcrime - 14 Feb 2013

Earth - the pale blue dot

Twenty-three years ago today, this picture of Earth - taken by the Voyager probe - was first glimpsed, after being transmitted back from a distance of nearly 6 billion kilometers.

Carl Sagan famously (and probably best) described the image in his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The vision of humankind leaving the vicinity of our planet, sailing amongst the stars, and exploring the remaining great unknown - all of this had to remain but a dream for Sagan.  Are we resigned to the same fate, or will we learn to see the bigger picture, put aside our petty quarrels, and instead embrace the best aspects of humanity - our curiosity and desire for knowledge - to forge a better path ahead?

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Maybe We Need To Use Harsher Words

At this particular time, on this particular blue and green sphere streaked with white wisps of condensation, there is a specific faction of people which is dominant, holding the ability to force their will on others in various ways.

Its assassins have the ability to strike anywhere and everywhere.  Their reach is unlimited, their scope undefined.  They exist both within the law and above it.

Technically, no other lifeform is safe - though some targets are prized more than others, and easier to pass off as legitimate.  Covering the skies of poor nations full of human beings with dark skin tones, these most murderous of machines have no need to descend on their marks.  From lofty heights, they launch chunks of fire and steel onto those unsuspecting souls below who, thinking their complex thoughts, are charred and torn to pieces.  A ligament here, a piece of bone there.  Witnesses quickly rush over and sift through the mess of flesh and metal in hopes of finding survivors, and then, wrought with complex emotions, are just as quickly destroyed.  A hope here, a dream there.

The bloody, stretched, torn, and jagged pieces of complex biology, which moments ago made up a son, daughter, mother, father, or friend, are silently read their last rites:
Another human being, who lives on the other side of the planet in comfort you could not imagine, who probably has never personally witnessed the type of violence inflicted upon you, and who will surely not imagine having to collect each of your remaining body parts in order to find some way to properly bury you, has decided that you - or someone who happened to be nearby - needed to die.
The loving, caring individual who either ordered your death, or decided that it was necessary in order to secure the death of someone you were nearby, assures you that your nonexistence will contribute significantly to the preservation of peace and freedom the world around.  Thank you for your understanding.*
* - Your understanding is not in any way necessary to satisfy the legality of this action.

                                                     *                 *                 *

Thoughtcrime - 13 Feb 2013

No state has the inherent right to exist.  This should be an obvious statement, but somehow in today's world it is an extremely controversial one.

Putting the thought into perspective, it's difficult to claim that anything in this universe has the right to exist - at least in its current form.  But if we want to start somewhere, maybe it's best to give people that right, and then work from there.

So, then, what can we make of a state which denies people have the right to exist?  Certainly it must be pretty far down on the list, if not anathema to the entire process.

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Thoughtcrime - 12 Feb 2013

Where else in the world does "democracy" consist of a speech given by one right-wing politician, followed by a speech by an even-further-right-wing politician (because the first speech was deemed in advance not right-wing enough for some), followed by another speech by a yet-even-further-right-wing politician (delivered for similar reasons)?

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Thoughtcrime - 11 Feb 2013

There is a thought that if we questioned leaders' every action, no one would want to become leaders.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that never has there been a shortage of leaders to even prompt this hypothetical, what purpose does it serve other than to absolve those in power from blame and deflect criticism of their statements and policies?

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Thoughtcrime - 10 Feb 2013

On a world which is 4.5 billion years old, in a universe which has lasted over 13 billion thus far, we humans live for - at most - a hundred or so years.  And yet even so, we have the audacity to insist that we own those objects and ideas which happen to come into our possession during our short existence?

Even if you happen to be in possession of something for a hundred years, you will have only 'owned' it for .0000007% of the time that has so far elapsed.  A mere trifle in the grand scheme of things.

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Political Theatre

In May of 2003, when a flight-suit-wearing George W. Bush stepped off a fighter plane and onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to deliver his victory speech, "Mission Accomplished" banner perfectly positioned behind him, Hollywood and Washington were in absolute alignment.  The War President looked like a war president - the 'good type', not the 'bad type' - and the people loved it.

Even liberal pundits swooned at his manliness, going out of their way to celebrate how great this made America look.  Chris Matthews could hardly contain himself:
"We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits."

No doubt, it was a public relations masterpiece of the worst kind.

At the time, the official position of the Bush administration on the Iraq War was that major combat operations had ended, and that the rest would be up to "winning hearts and minds" - a phrase unironically borrowed from president Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War rhetoric.  Of course, any sentiments that "Mission Accomplished" meant the war was over were tragically misplaced, just as was the idea that one could ever win hearts and minds by bombing another country's infrastructure into rubble, its people into submission.  But this, as usual, was just political theatre, meant to put a positive spin on what was clearly an aggressive war meant to fulfill strategic goals in a neocolonialist agenda.

Colin Powell had done the same thing a few months before, when he tried to sell the Iraq War on the world stage by holding up vials of anthrax and pointing to blurry pictures of structures captioned with scary titles.  Most everyone at the UN saw through it.  The Washington Post reported: "Irrefutable".

But just as the violence in Iraq was far from over, there were also no weapons of mass destruction to be found, and the U.S. government knew it from the start.  The story history tells is wholly unflattering to the charades, photo-ops, and hysterical posturing which proceeded the war, and one would certainly get the idea that they were complete failures which should by now have fashionably gone out of style.  Good then - for those masters of propaganda - that Americans seem to have trouble seeing past the makeup, bright lights, and flattering camera angles in order to take in the broader perspective.

Thoughtcrime - 09 Feb 2013

Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Saxby Chambliss, made this statement during the a hearing to question Obama's nominee for Director of the CIA, John Brennan:  "The main benefit I saw in [the CIA's detention program] was the ability to hold and question individuals about whom there was significant intelligence that they were terrorists, but not necessarily evidence that could be used in a court of law."

Exactly how 'significant' is that intelligence if it cannot even be used in a court of law?

Is this the same intelligence used to execute persons via drone strikes and the like?

Are laws being made to fit the standard of evidence this intelligence provides (such as the Patriot Act, FISA, language inserted into the NDAAs, etc), rather than the previous standard courts had accepted?

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Thoughtcrime - 08 Feb 2013

Which is a more serious crime:  being a traitor to one's country, or being a traitor to humanity (or life itself)?

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Thoughtcrime - 07 Feb 2013

Why is a business which breaks even considered a tragedy?  If you take over a business and 'restore it to profitability' by breaking unions, cutting staff, and paying less for more work, are you really doing society a service?

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Thoughtcrime - 06 Feb 2013

In the 21st century, the 'courageous defenders of civilization' go to war watching video screens half the world away, guiding bombs from heights unseen; while the 'cowardly savages', willing to pay the ultimate price, use their own bodies as weapons.

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Thoughtcrime - 05 Feb 2013

In some sense, it's helpful that the very nature of greed is "enough is never good enough".  The incredibly wealthy end up working against themselves, pushing too hard in their quest for more and more.  The backlash from austerity measures has woken millions up to a reality they would never had been aware of had they been kept in complacency with token social programs and the usual weapons of mass distraction.

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On the Question of Free Speech - Part I

Given the difficulty inherent in the topic, I want to further clarify my position on free speech.

Personally, I am absolutely behind the idea in abstract.  I support the creation of an open exchange of ideas, wherein every single idea is first heard, and then given the weight it deserves.  I support, as John Stuart Mill once described, the consideration of every opinion - good or bad - before it is either discounted or rejected.  By debating even the most vile concepts, we further our search for the truth.  I make a continual effort to do this, and I feel it is essential (along with the skepticism required to filter through the seemingly-infinite number of ideas which pass our way) to our functioning as reasonable human beings.

But there's a related philosophical problem I have with the arguments you most often hear in favor of free speech.  It seems to me that in modern society we have lost the idea what it means to 'have a voice'.

In my recent, non-exhaustive post on free speech, I mentioned that groups who focus on speech have lost the battle for an open discourse, and now focus primarily on protecting speakers from criminality.  That is: rather than advocate for equal speech, they simply defend speakers from government restriction.  This approach has led many to accept the idea that every possible restriction of speech is harmful, and in turn that corporations and other powerful private interests should be protected from governments cracking down on their ability to spend money to influence public opinion.  It only seems like a stretch of logic because it is.  It requires you to believe that any disruption of free 'speech' is going to lead to totalitarianism.

By accepting this reasoning a legitimate, we betray the most basic definition of speech - that of communication.  Humans did not develop language to speak with the air, or the trees, or ourselves.  Our thoughts alone would have sufficed for these purposes.  No, we did so to communicate our thoughts, emotions, and ideas to other human beings - to be heard.

After all, what is the point of speaking if not to reach an audience?

Thoughtcrime - 04 Feb 2013

What happens when a private company, such as Facebook, becomes so pervasive that its attempts to apply censorship to its users and utilize their personal information for its own gain affect enough people to where these issues become public concerns, which can no longer be legitimized under the guise of private freedom?

Has it already reached that point?

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Thoughtcrime - 03 Feb 2013

Today, someone spent more money on a single ticket to watch a sporting event for a few hours than almost every person alive on this planet makes selling the entirety of their labor for a whole year.

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Thoughtcrime - 02 Feb 2013

If those who loudly criticize and downplay scientific knowledge understood the intricate physical details of how the media they operate through (radio, television, internet, etc) actually works, would they still remain steadfastly anti-science?

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Thoughtcrime - 01 Feb 2013

What if the U.S. media had campaigned for the Occupy movement the way they did for the Iraq War?

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